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MICHAEL BRECKER TWO BLOCKS FROM THE EDGE
Michael Brecker - Two Blocks From the Edge
release date 5/12/1998
Madame Toulouse (05:19)
Two Blocks From the Edge (08:31)
Bye George (06:58)
El Niño (07:43)
Cat's Cradle (06:42)
The Impaler (07:13)
How Long 'til the Sun (07:38)
Delta City Blues (05:37)
Michael Brecker Tenor Sax
James Genus Bass
Don Alias Percussion
Joey Calderazzo Piano
Jeff "Tain" Watts Drums
Listen to Sample
Tenor saxophonist and composer Michael Brecker is an eleven-time Grammy-winner, and the first to win both the "Best Jazz Instrumental Performance and Best Jazz
Instrumental Solo; two years in a row. As a result of his stylistic and harmonic
innovations, Michael is among the most studied instrumentalists in music schools
throughout the world today.
Born into a musical household in Philadelphia in 1949, Michael’s father played jazz on
the record player for his sons and took Michael and his older brother Randy to see,
among others, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington. While Randy took
up trumpet, Michael launched his studies on clarinet and alto sax; moved by the genius of
Coltrane, Brecker switched to tenor sax in high school. After studying, as did his
brother, at the University of Indiana, Michael moved to New York City, landing work
with several bands before co-founding the pioneering jazz-rock group Dreams in 1970.
In 1973, Michael joined his brother in the frontline of pianist/composer Horace Silver’s
quintet. The following year, the siblings branched off to form the Brecker Brothers, one
of the most innovative and successful jazz-funk fusion bands of the decade. Michael and
Randy also owned and operated the popular downtown Manhattan jazz club, Seventh
Avenue South. Jam sessions with keyboardist/vibes player Mike Maineiri, bassist
Eddie Gomez, and drummer Steve Gadd led to the formation of Steps Ahead. With
Peter Erskine later replacing Gadd, the all-star quartet recorded seven albums while
ascending to worldwide acclaim.
Michael has recorded over 900 albums and performed with a virtual Who’s Who of jazz
and pop giants in the 70s and 80s, including McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Chick
Corea, Chet Baker, George Benson, Quincy Jones, Charles Mingus, Joni Mitchell,
Jaco Pastorius, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan, Pat
Metheny and Frank Zappa. Michael cut his first record as a leader in 1987.
The solo debut, Michael Brecker, was voted Jazz Album of the Year in both Down
Beat and Jazziz magazines. Its follow-up, Don't Try This At Home, garnered Brecker his
first Grammy. After investigating new rhythmic concepts on 1990’s Now You See It ...
Now You Don't, and subsequently being a featured soloist on tour for a year and a half
with Paul Simon, Michael reunited with Randy for 1992’s Return of the Brecker
Brothers. The Breckers’ Out of the Loop (1994) and Michael’s Tales From the Hudson
(1997) put additional Grammys on the saxophonist’s shelf, leading to Michael being
named "Best Soloist of the Year" by JazzLife and "Jazz Man of the Year" by Swing
Journal. At about the same time, Michael appeared on Herbie Hancock’s The New
Standard and McCoy Tyner’s Infinity (from which he won 2 Grammy’s), followed by
extensive touring with each piano titan.
In 1998 Brecker releaased Two Blocks From the Edge and 1999 marked the arrival of
Brecker’s Time Is of the Essence (featuring Metheny, organist Larry Goldings, and
drummers Elvin Jones, Jeff "Tain"; Watts and Bill Stewart).
Brecker’s seventh solo
album, Nearness of You: The Ballad Book, featured a dream ensemble of fellow jazz
giants—Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette—who
had never before recorded an album together. Produced by Metheny, with legendary
singer-songwriter James Taylor adding his voice to the peerless musical alchemy on two
tracks, Nearness of You was named "Record of the Year" and Brecker was named "Artist
of the Year"; in both the Critics’ and Readers’ Polls of Japan’s Swing Journal, which has
the largest circulation of any jazz magazine in the world. It also won a Grammy.
In June 2002, Brecker, Hancock and Roy Hargrove released Directions in Music, a live
concert at Toronto's Massey Hall, which celebrates the music of Miles Davis and John
Coltrane. Directions In Music won a Grammy for “Best Jazz Instrumental Album.” The
Directions project recently performed for hundreds of thousands of concertgoers, making
it among one of the highest profile jazz events in recent years.
Brecker began 2003 creating his first large ensemble record.
Wide Angles features the
piece Michael Brecker Quindectet, and the album has appeared on dozens of “Best Jazz Records of the Year” lists and won two Grammys in February, 2004.Brecker took his New York based quindectet on a sold-out tour of Japan. In the summer
of 2004, he will lead a quindectet tour throughout Europe.
Brecker’s accomplishments assure that his career will forever be intertwined with the
history of music. Jazziz magazine said it best: "You’ll find no better example of stylistic
evolution than Michael Brecker, inarguably the most influential tenor stylist of the last 25
While performing at the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival in 2004 , Brecker noticed a sharp pain his back. Shortly thereafter in 2005, he was diagnosed with the blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Despite a widely-publicized worldwide search, Brecker was unable to find a matching stem cell donor. In late 2005, he was the recipient of an experimental partial matching stem cell transplant. As of late 2006 he was recovering, but it proved not to be a cure for him. Brecker made his final public performance on June 23rd 2006, playing with Herbie Hancock at Carnegie Hall.
On January 13, 2007, Michael Brecker died from complications of leukemia in New York City. His funeral was held on January 15, 2007 in his hometown of Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.
On February 11, 2007, Michael Brecker was awarded two posthumous Grammy awards for his involvement on his brother Randy's 2005 album Some Skunk Funk.
On May 22, 2007, his final recording, Pilgrimage, was released receiving a good critical response. It was recorded in August 2006 with Pat Metheny on guitar, John Patitucci on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau on piano. Brecker was critically ill when it was recorded but the other musicians involved praised the standard of his musicianship. Brecker was again posthumously nominated and subsequently awarded two additional Grammy Awards for this album in the categories of Best Jazz Instrumental Solo and Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group, bringing his Grammy total to 15.
During his career, Brecker played on Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone using a highly-customized Dave Guardala mouthpiece. Previously, he had played a Selmer Super Balanced Action saxophone.
Two Blocks from the Edge is one of Michael Brecker's most impressive efforts. His tenor saxophone playing is at a peak of power and virtuosity. His band (pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist James Genus, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts and percussionist Don Alias) stays with him every step of the way. Two Blocks from the Edge is an example of contemporary jazz at its best: it isn't a pallid rehash of the archives, but it isn't tuneless and forbidding either.
Of course, there are echoes. Brecker thanks John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, and Stanley Turrentine in the liner notes. That about sums it up, but the overall feel and arrangements here hark back to Pharoah Sanders' Journey to the One : accessible jazz tunes just tinged with a pop feel and played with passion and power. Brecker doesn't sound much like Pharoah, but they're mining similar territory. Pharoah's ghost appears on "El Ni'o," which is tricked out with an ostinato rhythm backing while Brecker wails away at his most Coltraneian ' and veers into Pharoahnic multiphonics at the climax.
Brecker is, of course, his own man, and an deservedly influential voice in his own right. Check out the title tune, "Two Blocks from the Edge." Brecker alternates between full-bore high-energy passages and quiet moments of spontaneous and clich'-free lyricism. This tour de force is a marvelous example of the man's mastery of his instrument, but it is only one highlight of this album. The more relaxed and bouncy "Bye George" and the dusky ballad "Cat's Cradle" display Brecker's emotional versatility.
"The Impaler" may refer to the tricky harmonics of the tune, which of course Brecker navigates with confidence. "How Long 'Til the Sun" is tasty, leading into a long unaccompanied intro to "Delta City Blues." Brecker's wailing tenor recalls the best of the honking blues tenors, and he carries the pulse with Rollinsian precision, bringing a close to one of his best efforts.